Racial justice and civil rights
California was built by men and women of diverse countries, ethnicities, races, and creeds—including the indigenous people who were the first stewards of the land. As our storied history continues to evolve, there will be no clear ethnic or racial majority in the United States by 2044. But we have a lot of work to do to ensure equality and rights for all if we are to arrive at that point in a state of justice. People of color are significantly overrepresented in prisons, making up more that 60% of the population behind bars—and for juveniles it’s even worse. 67% of incarcerated juveniles are people of color. What can be done?
Voting restrictions on the formerly incarcerated have disenfranchised millions of voters. Today, approximately 5.9 million people are not able to vote due to felony convictions. While laws vary from state to state—with California proudly restoring voting rights to felons once they serve their sentence—1 in 13 blacks nationwide are disenfranchised due to felony convictions. California can lead the way by instituting civic participation classes in prisons as part of felon rehabilitation programs so that this at-risk population has a greater chance of reintegrating into society.
The “war on drugs” was a failure and it hurt hundreds of thousands in California. With recreational marijuana now legalized in the state, it is time we systematically release prisoners who were incarcerated for marijuana possession of less than one ounce or possession of marijuana paraphernalia. While certain counties like San Francisco and San Diego are leading the charge in this, it needs to be implemented at a state-wide level. It can improve the quality of life and job prospects for thousands, while saving the state millions of dollars.
We need to reform police training and use of force standards. All police departments in the state of California should be required to employ de-escalation training and to emphasize usage of these techniques in the field. They also need to measure performance based on preservation of life and body over displays of force. I support the current proposed bill by Assembly member Shirley Weber that would raise the standard to allow officers to use deadly force only when it is necessary to prevent imminent bodily injury or death.
- From the legalization of marijuana to the approval of same-sex marriage, participation in the electoral process has brought revolutionary change to California. Every citizen has a right to participate and shape the future of their community, regardless of their socio-economic status. Election Day should be a state holiday so that all Californians have an opportunity for their voice to be heard.